With just a prison guard separating them, it was the closest that Coleraine dentist Colin Howell and his former lover Hazel Stewart had been seen together in public since they were both accused of murdering their partners almost two decades ago.
Sitting just inches apart in the small dock at Coleraine Magistrate’s Court, Stewart (47) looked visibly shaken and Howell (51) looked pale as they made their short court appearance together.
It was the first time that the double murder accused pair appeared together in the dock since they were charged more than a year ago with killing Howell’s wife Lesley and Stewart’s husband Trevor Buchanan in May 1991.
The court was told that a preliminary enquiry into the murders is expected to go ahead next month.
Dressed casually in a grey sweatshirt Howell could be seen muttering to himself and licking his lips as he was led into the dock by two prison officers. Stewart, who was dressed in a blue raincoat, was ordered into the dock and, as she walked past, neither of the accused looked towards each other.
Stewart sat with her head bowed and eyes cast to the floor, while devout Christian Howell looked straight ahead during the short hearing.
Stewart’s second husband, a retired police superintendent, looked on anxiously from the floor of the court.
Several members of Stewart’s family were in court to support her, while members of her murdered husband’s family watched proceedings from the opposite side of the courtroom.
Howell and Stewart are both charged with murdering his wife Lesley (30) and her husband, RUC Constable Trevor Buchanan (31) whose bodies were found in a car filled with exhaust fumes at Castlerock in May 1991.
At the time it was believed the couple died as a result of a suicide pact. But the case was reopened when detectives questioned Howell and Stewart 15 months ago.
Yesterday at Coleraine Magistrate’s Court the Public Prosecution Service said a preliminary inquiry into the case was expected to be held on April 12.
It was the third time the preliminary inquiry was adjourned. District Judge Richard Wilson said he would like this matter to be moved forward.
As Stewart, who is on bail, was permitted to leave the dock and Howell was taken back into custody, both turned their heads away from each other.
Outside the courthouse, Stewart’s family attempted to shield her face from photographers and camera crews as she was helped into a car with darkened windows and driven away.
The bodies of Lesley Howell and Constable Buchanan were found in a car inside a garage at the back of a row of houses in the seaside town of Castlerock.
Constable Buchanan was discovered lying in the front of the car while Mrs Buchanan, a mother of four, was in the back wearing headphones listening to gospel music with family photographs lying beside her.
Just days earlier her father Harry Clarke died suddenly at his daughter’s home. Renowned dentist Howell, who once ran a practice in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, is also facing charges of drugging and indecently assaulting four women patients on various dates over a 10-year period.